Could the Appetite For Chocolate Exceed the World's Supply?

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Imagine Halloween and Valentine's Day without chocolate.  Imagine a world with chocolate prices so high that not everyone could afford to indulge.  Not a bright future.

Though the world's demand for chocolate almost exceeds the ability of worn-out plants to produce it, experts say it's not time to panic yet.  But something needs to be done.

"An improvement needs to be made to extend this supply chain," Robert Peck, senior director of operations for the World Cocoa Foundation, told "We have to start thinking, where is that increase in supply going to happen and how are we going to get it?"

The demand for chocolate increases by about 2.5 to 3 percent each year, which means about four million more tons of cocoa are needed every year.

Experts predict that by 2020, the demand for chocolate will increase by 25 percent. That's about five million metric tons of chocolate.

"Cocoa has been almost completely static," said Andrew Pederson, global chocolate manager for Mars, Inc., the makers of M&Ms, Milky Way bars, Snickers and other confections.  "The crops don't perform well. They're aging pretty badly. Farmers don't have a lot of tools and training."

Existing cocoa plants, mostly in tropical countries, are old and worn out, and it is difficult to find space to plant more. Expansion of cropland could mean deforestation.

"Cocoa is a crop that is fragile. Cocoa is a crop that is very picky where it likes to grow," Peck said. "It needs tropical, humid conditions with rich soil. There's not a lot of land availability with those conditions around the world."

Experts say newer and stronger cocoa plants need to be developed to keep up with demand, which can take years.

"It takes time to influence the product of the tree," Peck said. "Results don't happen overnight."

Peck called the chocolate industry a "very well-developed sector" and said the issue of appetite overrunning ability is not a surprise. He said the industry has been investing in and implementing programs and research for years to combat the problem.

"From my very personal perspective, overnight there probably won't be a major variance in chocolate prices for consumers," Peck said.

So, for now, chocolate lovers need not fret.

"We want to make sure people can continue loving it without any cares or worries, except for having too much," Pederson said.